Decisions on allocating 2G spectrum licenses were never brought to the Cabinet or to him, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Wednesday, distancing himself and his government from the scam that has landed former telecom minister A Raja in jail.
But the PM remained non-committal on questions on the government’s perceived delay in acting on complaints against Raja, indicating only that he was assured that all was well, and that he was bound by coalition considerations.
“In allocation of 2G spectrum, the issue of licences was never brought to me or the Cabinet. That was the exclusive decision of the minister (Raja),” he said, adding that Raja had assured him of “complete transparency” in allocations.
Several firms that received 2G licenses are currently under the CBI’s scanner because they allegedly sold large chunks of their equity for profits even before rolling out services.
The PM confirmed he had received complaints on these firms, but said he did not intervene because he was told the firms needed to sell equity to earn funds to roll out services.
Asked about differences between the loss to the exchequer calculated by the CAG and the “zero loss” argued by now telecom minister Kapil Sibal, the Prime Minister said the loss figure would depend on the calculation “starting point”.
Effectively supporting Sibal, the PM said that if the policy of issuing licenses without auctioning them was followed strictly and according to norms, “where is the question of loss”.
The PM tried to buttress his argument by pointing out that the telecom policy was aimed at promoting tele-density instead of revenue. If following this policy is viewed as a loss of revenue, the government’s subsidies for the poor could similarly be targeted as resulting in revenue loss, he said.
On Devas claims
The PM also defended his office in the face of allegations that it participated in “backroom” discussions with multimedia firm Devas on a deal the government was instructed to scrap by the Space Commission. Devas on Wednesday also threatened to seek legal action against the government if the deal is scrapped.
“There have been no backroom talks... There has been no effort in the PMO to dilute the decision taken by the Space Commission in July 2010. On that, I would like to assure you and the country,” Singh said.